My parents always used to tell me: "Enjoy school. You'll miss it when it's over." Well after five years of being finished with what society regards as compulsory education, the feeling of missing my school days has never once crossed my mind. Frankly, it's because the reality of lower education nowadays is much more stressful and miserable than the way it is portrayed in the media. I'm looking at you Riverdale. However, recently I've been back in education, boarding at a fictional academy that makes me envy what high school could have been, in EVC's Wintermoor Tactics Club.
The Wintermoor Tactics Club is an adventure RPG, inspired by visual novels, which focusses on Alicia and her Curses and Catacombs (C&C - A Dungeons and Dragons style game) clubmates as they attempt to solve a confounding mystery regarding why Wintermoor's Principal Enfield has begun to put a restraint on extra-curricular clubs. Whilst investigating, Alicia and her friends will discover the mystery is much more dangerous and complex than they initially thought, learning that Wintermoor itself may just be a haven for a deeper, perhaps mystical conspiracy.
Since the title is an adventure RPG, a lot of gameplay is based around socialising with the characters around the school and completing quests to further the storyline. This is where you can really feel the influence from visual novels, as the narrative surrounding this part, alongside the quests themselves, make it very enjoyable to complete (even when the missions are quite frankly fairly mundane fetch quests much of the time). When playing you can see how much emphasis went into creating a diverse narrative, because every interaction feels unique from the rest, leading me to frequently choosing to speak to random characters just to hear what they had to say. That's not usually my jam in games.
The quest design isn't always particularly innovative in what it asks you to do, but on the other hand, it always asks you to work with different characters in different locations. In effect, with the strong narrative and variety in terms of who each quest surrounds, the repetitiveness and lack of variety in terms of quest design doesn't heavily impact the immersion of the game. I understand how this might sound, but the strength of Wintermoor Tactics Club isn't always its gameplay, but quite often in its storytelling along the way.
The game does feature a strong and well-built turn-based tactics system that builds on the character's C&C club. Within the title, every combat scenario is imagined from the eyes of Alicia and her friends' alter-egos from C&C, meaning even though the game is about school, combat has fantasy elements to play with. Alicia, for example, is a mage who can cast lightning bolts chaining damage between foes. Other playable characters such as Eowald, a Paladin, is great for tanking damage and dealing medium amounts of physical damage in return. As the storyline progresses the C&C club will expand, adding new characters to play with, each with their own sets of abilities and unique attacks.
As for how the combat plays out, think of it as a simplified tactics game, perhaps an XCOM with much less punishing, shorter encounters. Does this design make it too easy or boring to play through? Absolutely not because each combat encounter features a unique variety of enemies to throw down with and can be completed with any three unlocked characters you choose. Don't get me wrong, elite strategy players will likely blast through the combat stages, but for anyone looking to play an interesting game, the combat is inviting and not overwhelming, unlike the impression a lot of strategy titles can give off.
The enemies you face are also easy to get to grips with and won't drop you into a shallow grave the second you face them. From the fictional troll and elf-like creatures to the other clubs that have been translated into fantasy characters, every enemy is smart enough to provide a challenge, yet simple enough to be able to crack without needing a playbook. To add a little more of a challenge, some combat encounters feature bosses with huge health pools and hard-hitting attacks, who are quite often so strong that your best bet is to just survive them and focus taking down the other enemies to win. My favourite boss was Sleipnir, a robotic, rocket-powered horse constructed by the Equestrian Club as a method to crush their opponents and believe me, he really was a tough stallion to break in.
Aside from its solid strategy-based combat and strong visual novel design, one of the other areas I personally really enjoyed was the look of Wintermoor Academy and the art and sound used to bring it to life. With the title being played from a third-person isometric angle, the focus is often on the environment, which in this case is quite stunning. From the Stadium to the Classrooms, everything in Wintermoor Academy is created to reflect a visual novel with its realistic yet cartoony design. Combining this with a great wintery soundtrack that really captures the essence of Wintermoor's frosty location, it's incredibly hard not to envy the students who attend the school.
It is worth noting Wintermoor Tactics Club isn't perfect. Since there is a lot of travelling between locations, the title has way too many loading screens. I actually wouldn't be surprised if I averaged a load screen every two minutes when playing through the storyline. Likewise, I really wish there was a little more to do at times. Sure, the narrative is fantastic and the combat equally fulfilling, but it couldn't hurt to offer a little more variety every now and then to add a whole new level to the experience.
Issues aside, Wintermoor Tactics Club is a genuinely entertaining strategy-RPG, with a brilliant narrative inspired by visual novels and a strategy-based combat system that's equally enjoyable. The storyline and conversations between the many interactive characters made this title such a pleasant experience that would make anyone long for those perfectly portrayed school days. Apart from a few niggles with its loading screens and slightly repetitive gameplay design, the Wintermoor Tactics Club turned out to be one the most delightful indie titles I have played this year.
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